The population of over 3 million is a contrast in itself: the great majority are mestizos, people of mixed European and Native American descent, or mulattoes, those of European and African heritage. These groups are most present in rural regions and in cities, but a precise evaluation is impossible as racial mixing is so extensive. Panama’s cities contain sizeable minorities of whites from Europe and North America, Asians, Jews, Caribbean blacks, and people of Middle Eastern descent. In some coastal areas, Panamanians of African descent form the majority.
Having landed in Ciudad de Panamá, the scenario is impressive: the towering buildings with their offices and luxury apartments, the postmodern architecture and the massive skyscrapers rising from the Pacific coast make Panama’s skyline the most prominent in Central America. Elegant neighbourhoods, giant shopping malls, international fast-food chains and American businesses are everywhere. Anywhere you look it’s easy to imagine the amount of money that tolls from the Canal poured on this little fiscal paradise.
On the other side, Panama confronts a progressive deterioration of its environmental quality and natural resources, which can turn irreversible if appropriate measures are not taken in time. In Panama City, air pollution, soil erosion and water poisoning exceed international norms of acceptability and they are increasing at a steady pace. It is an immense weight that hangs over future generations.
But once you are away from the huge avenues and the perfectly paved highways, on your way to the coast and the beautiful Panamanian beaches, a different side of the country is revealed. Down the Casco Viejo, the old town, Panama City shows another soul. The heartbeat of the colonial Panama, the second rebuilding that the city has gone through – after the first settlement back in 1519 – for many years has been considered a slum with its troubled neighbourhood, its stinking and narrow streets and the Spanish-like old buildings, mostly in states of decay. That teeming ghetto, densely populated by people that make less than minimum wage with entire families crowded into one-room apartments, is now disappearing little by little, as the Casco Viejo area is being slowly renovated and restored.
Photography. Dizy Díaz
Words. Vincenzo Angileri / Eldorado